The issue of high retaining walls continues to pose challenges for Cumberland’s council.
At a recent meeting, council heard back from its Advisory Planning Commission (APC) about variance requests for high walls on four properties on Bolton Street.
Council had sent the issue to the APC following a meeting on Sept. 7, and they dealt with the matter when it came back at the Sept. 27 meeting.
Staff noted that if the variances were approved, the village could deal with concerns council had expressed such as drainage during the building permit phase through geotechnical reports.
“I’m very concerned at the mention of soils and waters running downhill,” Coun. Gwyn Sproule said.
Council again expressed frustration with the way properties have developed in the Coal Valley Estates, which in this case had the houses constructed and retaining walls put in before the requests. The variance request, in most cases, was to increase the height from the maximum 1.2 metres up to different heights, mostly 1.5 metres at the rear of the property. One asks for a height between 1.5 and three metres, while another also asks for a variance on the side of the property of up to 1.9 metres.
Among council members, there was a sense the high retaining walls resulted from the demand to have flat lots at homes on hillsides, but they were concerned about how these might affect the views of neighbouring properties. Council members also expressed sympathy though for the owners on the hook for something that had happened during construction.
Another question that arose surrounded what building inspectors look at, specifically the structures rather than yard elements such as retaining walls.
Coun. Jesse Ketler cited other measures for developers to adjust to slopes on properties.
“There are other ways the yard can be designed,” she said. “People will need to look at terraced backyards…. Hopefully, we can do better next time.”
Following the staff recommendations, council approved motions to grant the variance requests for 3388, 3392, 3396 and 3400 Bolton St.
As at the meeting in early September, manager of development services Courtney Simpson told council the village hopes to avoid these situations in the future by requiring more information from developers such as grading requirements during the building permit phase.
Later at the same meeting though, council faced a similar dilemma over four properties requesting wall variances. The requested height variances ranged from 1.5 to 3.0 metres.
A difference with the requests for properties at 2415, 2411 and 2486 Beaumont Cr. and 2510 Kendal Ave. compared with those on Bolton is that the surrounding neighbourhood has not yet been developed, whereas the phase with the Bolton homes has mostly been built out.
“I feel like this is a completely different situation than Bolton,” Coun. Vickey Brown said. “There’s room to remedy this situation.”
In this case, the staff recommendation was to deny the applications, except for a 1.5m side wall variance at 2415 Beaumont, and council passed motions to deny the requests with the one exception. This leaves the owners with options such as lowering the wall or using an alternative approach such as terracing.
“Hopefully, this is the last day people are going to build this kind of stuff,” Coun. Sean Sullivan said.
A couple of owners from Beaumont raised questions at the end of the meeting about being on the hook for work now to mitigate the situation. The suggestion was to deal with the grade of the land by using terracing, though one of the owners asked about the delay between the building of the homes and notice that the variance request was now needed.